Dating accused baby killers: Should NJ moms also face slaying charges?
The family of Ariana Smyth, the 2-year-old girl allegedly raped and killed by her mother's boyfriend, hopes an online petition will convince prosecutors to also charge the girl's Gloucester City mother with murder.
Michael Disporto, 22, of Manahawkin, was charged in July with first-degree murder and sexual assault.
The mother, Amber Bobo, 26, was charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child. It's a serious crime that carries a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison, but baby Ariana's family believe Bobo should face harsher charges.
Ariana's death was horrifying, but it's not the only slaying of a young child this summer in New Jersey.
A Pennsauken man is facing murder charges after allegedly beating to death his girlfriend’s son, also 2 years old. Zachary Tricoche allegedly told little Jamil Baskerville Jr. to “put up his hands” to fight while the couple argued over groceries. The boy's mother called 911 but didn't tell the operator that her boyfriend had beat the child. The mother in this case has not been charged with any crime.
The cases have raised questions about what legal repercussions mothers should face when their partners are accused of harming or killing their child.
Last month, a state appeals court panel ruled that a mother could be he held legally liable after returning with her baby to an abusive boyfriend. The mother's boyfriend went on to swing the baby around by the ankles and threaten to rape the child.
Relatives of Ariana Smyth started an online petition to convince Camden County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colallio to consider charging Bobo with first-degree murder even though she has not been accused of physically harming her child.
Family spokeswoman Marilyn Mesmer said the message the family wants to get to the grand jury is that "these charges (against Bobo) are way, way too low. You need to upgrade them."
Prosecutors say Ariana returned home from a day at the park with her mom's boyfriend with severe injuries all over her body, including her genital area.
When Bobo wanted to take her daughter to a doctor, Disporto managed to talk Bobo out of it until she found the girl lying motionless in a bedroom.
The child was transported to Cooper University Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a subdural hemorrhage and cerebral edema, requiring immediate brain surgery. The baby had bilateral bruising and swelling to her labia, a complete fracture of her right humerus, bilateral pulmonary contusions and urine and blood in her abdomen. She had no brain activity and was pronounced dead two days later. An autopsy determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
"Bobo cared more for her boyfriend than her own child," the family's petition says. "She allowed Ariana to suffer for nearly 12 hours with obvious signs of having a head injury from being beaten and bruised genitals consistent with rape."
Mt. Holly attorney Daniel M. Rosenberg, a former Burlington County assistant prosecutor, said a grand jury could vote to increase or decrease the severity of charges Bobo faces.
"The prosecutor is not required to present the same charges in the criminal complaint to the grand jury, nor is the grand jury required to only consider the charges presented," he told New Jersey 101.5.
But Rosenberg said a public petition "carries no legal persuasion."
"The prosecutor is duty bound to do justice, which is not always popular in public opinion."
Former Essex County assistant prosecutor Anthony Pope, now a defense attorney, said he has never seen a petition change the mind of a prosecutor, but "it may give the prosecutor some pause to reconsider or revisit in case they missed something."
"But typically in a case like this — the sensitivity of it, the horrific nature of it — causes prosecutors right from the outset to err on the side of caution rather than go in the other direction."
Ariana's grandfather, Robert Anthony Smyth, says it doesn't matter if the petition doesn't succeed in its stated mission.
"Anything you need to do to expose Amber and Michael for what they've done, even if it doesn't get a stronger conviction," he told New Jersey 101.5. "I just want their names out there and I want them branded."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.